salvation army playground

This artist's rendering shows the proposed playground and athletic field.

For some people, helping others is a calling.

19th century humanitarian Catherine Booth said “there is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.” In 1865, Booth and her husband William founded the Salvation Army. Her words, now shortened to the phrase “Doing the Most Good®,” represent the Salvation Army’s mission.

The Army has been doing just that for decades in Long Beach. For the last two years, it has done so in a new Citadel and community center at Long Beach Boulevard and Spring Street. Now the Salvation Army wants to expand its services — and its facilities at the center. And there is a need for the public's help.

Quantitative evaluations help the organization see where it can make the biggest impact. In 2013, the Salvation Army conducted a detailed assessment of the Long Beach community; survey results showed a high need to assist at-risk youth, at-risk families, at-risk seniors, veterans and homeless, according to Melinda Lankford, community program director for the Salvation Army Long Beach Corps. As a result of this assessment, the Salvation Army envisioned facilities to support these groups and launched a fund-raising campaign to build them.

In 2017, the Salvation Army added a brand-new building to its food distribution center and administrative offices on the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Spring Street. The 23,920-square-foot structure houses a community kitchen, a chapel/auditorium, and numerous classrooms. Within its walls, young people meet every Tuesday for free music lessons, arts and crafts activities, homework help, and a hot dinner; seniors gather for dances and classes. Everyone is welcome for Sunday services.

Lankford said the Long Beach Salvation Army’s year-round service touches the lives of more than 1,800 youth each year. However, she said there is still a great need for additional programming to encourage positive personal development and prevent continuing cycles of poverty.

“The Salvation Army has been impacting lives in Long Beach and the surrounding communities for over 110 years,” Salvation Army Captain Sergio Garcia said. “I’m excited to see how much more we can do, joining with community partners to impact lives, both young and old.”

To that end, the organization is moving forward with the second part of its ambitious plan. Action is underway on Phase II of the Long Beach Salvation Army’s construction project; documents have been submitted for approval and Lankford said that permits are expected to be obtained by mid-December.

Slated for completion in June 2021, the Donald and Priscilla Hunt Red Shield Community Center will include a 12,010-square-foot gymnasium with an NBA-sized basketball court that can also be used for volleyball and pickleball. An attached room will be used for weights and exercise classes; an additional 1,500 square feet of covered space will serve as an outdoor game room. Next door to the gym, the organization plans a Youth-11 soccer field with a walking track around its perimeter. A playground and additional parking spaces also will be added to the area.

The Hunt family has pledged $5 million of the $8.5 million cost for Phase II construction. Priscilla Hunt said her late husband Donald spoke fondly of his childhood involvement in Salvation Army music and service.

“If you are blessed, instead of accumulating wealth and material things … you should share,” Hunt said.

The Salvation Army property sits in an area that is largely devoid of parks and green spaces. The new facilities will create healthy opportunities for local youth to play and develop. Solvej Garcia, the mother of three youngsters and a member of the Long Beach Salvation Army, said she is eager for Phase II construction to begin.

“The Community Center will give my kids a safe place to play and it will also be a wonderful connection point for people in the area,” Garcia said. “My kids are excited about the soccer field and the basketball gym, and I am excited to connect with other moms.”

To support the Salvation Army’s capital campaign, contact Melinda Lankford at Melinda.Lankford@usw.salvationarmy.org.

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